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'America is grateful' to Flight 93 heroes

A 'wave of courage' during doomed assault on hijackers

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush observe a moment of silence after laying a wreath at the Flight 93 crash site.  

SHANKSVILLE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- A year after their heroic deeds aboard Flight 93, the 40 passengers and crew were honored Wednesday as courageous "citizen soldiers" who won the first battle in the war against terrorism.

Sandy Dahl, the wife of Flight 93's pilot, Capt. Jason Dahl, praised the "selfless sacrifice" of the crew and passengers, who attempted to take back the plane from the hijackers in the doomed flight's final minutes.

"In the air, a wave of courage made its way from the cockpit to the rear of the aircraft and back again, with all persevering to the end," she said. "Unknown to one another, they supported each other in the fight of their lives and no one was alone."

"A Time for Honor and Hope" was the official title of the memorial service for the 40 passengers and crew aboard the United Airlines flight, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. Some 500 family and friends of the crew and passengers of Flight 93 attended the memorial.

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At 10:06 a.m., the time of the crash, members of the audience cried as a large gold bell tolled 40 times as the names of the victims were read by Tony Mowod, an announcer with WDUQ Radio of Pittsburgh.

Where 'freedom took its first stand'

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who was governor of Pennsylvania on September 11, said "America is grateful" to the 40 victims who "won the first battle" in the war against terrorism.

"Your loved ones did not expect to serve the cause of freedom on that Tuesday morning, but serve it they did," he said. " Faced with the most frightening circumstances one could possibly imagine, they met the challenge like citizen soldiers, like Americans."

Ordered by the hijackers to be quiet and remain calm so their lives would be spared, Ridge said the passengers decided not to play by the rules.

"The terrorists were right to fear an uprising. The passengers and crew did whatever they humanly could -- boil water, phone the authorities, and ultimately rush the cockpit to foil the attack," he said. "The result was summed up by one of the messages left on the temporary memorial, very simple message: 'Thank you for saving my life.'"

Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker, who was appointed to take Ridge's place, said he was "humbled by the courage" that ordinary Americans showed on September 11.

"It was here that freedom took its first stand," he said.

Shortly after noon, President Bush paid his first visit to the site and was greeted with applause from the families of the victims who had gathered to greet him.

Accompanied by first lady Laura Bush, the president bowed his head and paid a silent tribute after a wreath of roses was laid at the site. A military bugler played "Taps," followed by a prayer and an a capella rendition of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Bush and the first lady then met with the families for an hour, signing autographs, shaking hands, posing for photographs and hugging family members. In speeches since September 11, Bush has repeatedly cited the valor of Flight 93's crew and passengers as "the most vivid and sad symbol" of American unity that followed the September 11 attacks.

A young girl signs a makeshift memorial near the Flight 93 crash site in rural Pennsylvania.
A young girl signs a makeshift memorial near the Flight 93 crash site in rural Pennsylvania.  

Many White House staffers attended the memorial to remember those who possibly saved their lives on September 11. U.S. government officials have suggested that the White House was the target of Flight 93 before the passenger rebellion.

Murial Borza, the 11-year-old sister of passenger Deora Bodley, asked for a minute of silence for worldwide peace in memory of her sister, who Borza said taught her to "be kind to people and animals."

"I cherish the memories of my sister and plan to work hard in school and in everything I do so she can be proud of me like I was of her," she said.

She asked the crowd to pledge to "do a good deed to help mankind in some small way." The moment of silence was punctured only by the sound of the strong wind blowing across the crash site.

Hundreds of flags adorned the makeshift memorial near the field in which the plane crashed. "Such an ugly thing to happen in such a beautiful place," said Alice Hogan, the mother of passenger Mark Bingham.

A vote to fight back

The fourth plane hijacked that day, Flight 93, departed from Newark, New Jersey, and was bound for San Francisco. After being hijacked, the plane was near Cleveland when it turned around and headed east.

But the hijackers did not consider the possibility that passengers would use mobile and on-board telephones to call loved ones, who told them about the attacks in New York City and Washington.

Knowing they were next, the passengers voted to fight back and launched a counterattack, attempting to wrest control of the Boeing 757 back from the hijackers. During the struggle, the plane slammed into a field near Shanksville in Somerset County, a rural area roughly 80 miles south of Pittsburgh.

The final words of several passengers have become almost legendary.

At 10:06 a.m., the time of Flight 93 crashed, a bell tolled 40 times for each person aboard the flight.
At 10:06 a.m., the time of Flight 93 crashed, a bell tolled 40 times for each person aboard the flight.  

Passenger Todd Beamer used an onboard phone to call the FBI and at the end of the call, the operator overheard him say, "Let's roll." Before hanging up on the fourth and final phone call to his wife Deena, passenger Tom Burnett told her that he and others "are going to do something."

According to a recently published book about the flight, "Among the Heroes," flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw told her husband Phil that she was boiling water to use in the attack. She ended the call by saying, "Phil, everyone's running to first class. I've got to go. Bye."

While their attempt to save themselves was unsuccessful, the passengers' efforts probably saved the lives of others.

While U.S. government officials have said the plane's ultimate target was the White House, a report broadcast earlier this week by Arabic language television network Al-Jazeera claimed the target was the U.S. Capitol. Both buildings were rapidly evacuated after air traffic controllers saw where the plane was headed.


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